~11,000-word post with tao lin & kevin sampsell emails & thoughts re editing

this post is in 4 parts
part 1: thoughts about personality/'art'

part 2: emails with kevin sampsell about my chapbook today the sky is blue and white with bright blue spots and a small pale moon and i will destroy our relationship today

part 3: mine and kevin sampsell's comments on parts of the chapbook

part 4: imagined interviews with people who view editing in different ways
i don't feel like i need to further organize this post because, though each part may be rhetorical, it has no overall rhetoric—it doesn't tell you what to do because it honestly doesn't know what to do

after you read this you will maybe be more confused than before you read it

i don't know what to do

no one knows what to do

if you know what to do you will probably not like this post

because this post, in entirety, says 'no one knows what to do'

i think most people will think the message of this post is something like 'tao lin is angry at kevin sampsell and wants to "get back at him" for deciding not to publish his chapbook'

it isn't, in my view

if i'm ever angry at anything it's existence itself not a specific person or group of people

nothing is detached or separate from the first event that created the universe, therefore nothing can be blamed except for existence itself; you blame a person, then you have to blame their mom, then their mom's mom, so on, until the first event, after which maybe all that can be done is to learn to stop thinking or maybe kill yourself

i think the message of this post is something like 'no one knows what to do, tao lin is confused and afraid, life is sad and confusing; but here is some information that might reduce confusion/conflict in the world' or 'whenever there is a chance to alienate people by stating facts tao lin will do it, knowing it will decrease the number of people who will try to communicate with him in the future, which is something he wants, because he apparently can't communicate with mutual comprehension with most people but usually doesn't know immediately if he can or can't due to politeness and other methods of hiding one's worldview'

also first let me explain my choice in posting kevin sampsell's emails; some people think this is 'wrong' or 'disrespectful,' which i feel is like saying 'marriage is sacred'

here is what will happen if i post kevin sampsell's emails: he will be more aware of what he types in emails from now on, more people will be encouraged to post other people's emails; gradually more people will be more conscious of other perspectives and more aware of what they type in emails and by extension what they do or say in real life; in time, less lies will be told, more information will be available, there will be less secrecy, people will be more considerate and tolerant and honest (if only because they're afraid of being viewed as mean or deceptive or tyrannical) because actions will be easier (more openly, directly) linked to identities (if you punch someone in the face you will suffer consequences, if you pay someone to confidentially punch someone in the face you will probably suffer less—or no—consequences); there will be less hidden information; the sources of information will be less obscure; information will be less mediated, effects will be more easily traceable to causes; instead of, for example, civilians or soldiers fighting other civilians or soldiers, presidents will be forced to fight other presidents if they want to fight at all; releasing information that is true, making it public and easily accessible, will probably always reduce pain/suffering in the world
a person's personality is their 'art'

what you laugh at and how, your vocabulary, the tone of your voice, the choice of where to look during conversations, your arm movements, clothing decisions, style of hair, length and frequency and volume of laughter—these are not dissimilar, it seems, as the choice of what words to use in a poem, what font to use in a book, what to focus on in a chapter

most people change their personality in different situations to, among other reasons, influence certain other people to like them more, dislike them less, or view them in a certain way

when two people meet and are indifferent toward, unaffected by, or averse toward each other's personality they usually will focus elsewhere, and forget each other, not try to 'edit' each other

one person won't tell the other how they can be 'better' if they spoke using less conjunctions and at a certain pitch, while visually focused on a certain area, at a specific angle, etc.

here is a situation: you are with someone, they point at a hippo and laugh

here are your choices: (1) say 'that is not funny' and point at a tree and laugh and say 'that is funny' (2) say 'that's interesting you think a hippo is funny, because i don't think a hippo is funny' and think 'this person believes a hippo is funny, i will not be their friend' (3) ask why they laughed at the hippo and listen to their explanation and maybe think 'i understand people are different and i believe this person has told me the truth about why they laughed at the hippo and, though i did not laugh at the hippo, i understand that this person who did, whose truth in this exists privately in abstraction, is not better or worse than me, but only, as is the case for every person who is not me, different than me'
the extreme of (1) is to kill the other person, or to somehow create a machine that will allow your brain to 'take over' their brain, which would also mean to kill them and which is not dissimilar to genocide

the extreme of (3) is that no one ever tries to influence anyone else, meaning no one moves or eats and eventually everyone dies, so that the matter (their bodies, limbs) they once could manipulate become again inanimate, moveable only by the laws of the universe, such as cause-and-effect
sometimes personality is used for financial gain, like if jay leno's boss, after researching the subject, told jay leno to 'use less curse words, more political jokes, blink less, smile more' and jay leno said 'okay, i will do those things'

if personality is not being used for financial gain what reason would you state to convince someone to, for example, wink a certain way more often? why should they change?

'you need to wink... etc., so that i will like you better and other people will like you better'?

kids have imaginary friends

that is like a novel or story to them, the imaginary friend is their creation

not influenced by business, editing, audience, etc.

not shared with anyone

kids when playing with their imaginary friends are always happy, i think

are they even lonely?

i don't know

but there is no equivalent to the 'imaginary friend' for an adult who is a writer; how can there be with writing workshops, writing magazines, writer's conferences, editors, publishing houses, presses, literary magazines, etc.; all these other things that exist to make your writing 'better,' to improve it?

if money is not involved and you go to the child with the imaginary friend and you start using words like 'better' 'bad' 'good' 'stupid' and saying things like 'your imaginary friend should react differently when you punch it in its head; it is not realistic how it reacted; also, since you already showed how the imaginary friend is an asshole you don't have to have it say that it is an asshole; and it is boring when the imaginary friend says that thing about bananas so you should make it say something more interesting'

the child will be confused

children have less preconceptions than adults

no one says, 'is the imaginary friend good; how can it be made 'better'?

the child will call you on your bullshit and you will feel strange

the child will say, 'i don't understand'

here is what happens when an adult meets another adult

you meet someone; you can either force yourself to accept everything about them or you can try to change them
if you try to change them and use abstract language like 'better' 'bad' 'good' then the other person has no choice; they can either hate themselves and eventually kill themselves or they can become 'better'

if you try to change them and use concrete language like, 'you can find someone different who will not want to change you or you can change and i will not leave you,' then the other person has a choice that does not involve killing themselves
most people feel lonely

they are willing to change in order to be with someone else

and anyone can change

change is not 'good' or 'bad'

violence happens when people think of 'change' in terms of 'better' not 'different'

think about what would happen if the leaders of the world were replaced with either james chapman ("...there isn't any strong or weak or perfect or imperfect. there are only different persons who write.") or susan sontag ("...she said that she considered—get this—herself and Gass the two best writers in America.")

if you are alive you are influencing the world

how you view editing will be how you view what to do when you see a person behaving anomalously in a park, or store, or wherever; or if you're in a situation where there is something that is the same as 'racial' or 'sexual' tolerance except that 'racial'/'sexual' is replaced with things not usually discussed by society and which therefore (if you think in terms of 'better' not 'different') you don't know how to react toward, since all your actions are based on preconceptions and you are unable to discern the concrete effects of actions, because your language and therefore your worldview is largely abstract/'received' (marriage is sacred or postmodernism is bad; rather than marriage is [concrete results of marriage] or [word count, idea, length, construction of a specific sentence] is [effect the sentence has on your brain]), which means if most people say slavery is good you will also say 'slavery is good,' which means that though almost everyone who reads this site participates in 'best books' discussions and constantly uses the words 'good,' 'better,' 'best,' 'bad,' almost everyone who reads this site would also agree that slavery is wrong, women should be able to vote, racial/sexual intolerance is bad, which are things that have changed only because some people were able to think concretely ('different') rather than abstractly ('better')
From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Sat, 19 Feb 2005 13:36:25 -0800
Subject: Lin-mania

Hi Tao,
I'm a newer fan of your work. Can you send me some links to more of your stuff? If I type in "tao lin" to google, I get the feeling there are many Tao Lins.
Do you have any books out?

From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: Feb 19, 2005 9:25 PM
Subject: re: Lin-mania

Hi Kevin,

(this is my new email address)

I'm very happy that you are a fan.


I also have a very short story in Hobart #4, a short story in Dicey Brown #1, a short story forthcoming in Punk Planet Magazine, two poems, one very long (10 or so pages), that i like in The Minetta Review.

And eight long (5000-9000 words) stories written this past year, two of which are forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review and The Portland Review, one of which won One Story's short story contest (but they aren't publishing it), and the other five i've been sending out for a few months now.

And i have three or four long stories from more than a year ago that i've stopped sending out but i still kind of like.

And a few very short things that i haven't sent out yet but plan to one day.

No, I don't have a book.

I don't understand how there are so many Tao Lins, it seems a little strange.

From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Feb 26, 2005 11:45 PM
Subject: re: Lin-mania

Thanks for all the links.
I really enjoyed them all, especially the stuff about Lorrie Moore. There's a kind of disturbing gonzo element to that stuff, and I'm not using gonzo just because Hunter killed himself recently. Even if I hadn't heard of Hunter I would probably think: gonzo.
I would be interested in seeing the unpublished stories. I will be guest-editing an issue of a very cool print journal called Spork later this year and would like to have you in there. In fact, I would really like to chat more about doing a possible chapbook project (probably in 2006 though, cuz I'm booked for the rest of this year I
think). What do you think? Are you at all familiar with the little press I do?
Oh yeah--I'll be taking submissions for Spork at my work e-mail (at Powell's!!): [his email]

talk to you later,

From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Jan 12, 2006 1:39 PM
Subject: Cancer Comedy

Hey Tao,
Yeah, it looks like I'll have to get some blogger account action going. I wanted to leave a comment on yr blog today about the Cancer/MFA stories. I thought they were brilliant. I was surprised no one pointed that out. Sooo funny. I want to include that story in the flash fiction chapbook we do this summer!

I am publishing two books before yours--the Eric Spitznagel memoir through Manic D in April (a real fancy trade paperback with real distribution), and a chapbook of memoirish stories by this guy here in Portland named Justin Maurer. He sings in a punk band called Clorox Girls. He's about 24 I think. Smart. Is actually more excited about his chapbook than his impending European tour. He will take the chapbook on all his tours and sell it on the merch table. For some reason I am very thrilled by that.

After Justin, it'll be your turn. Summer. The Summer of Tao.

Oh--and not to mention the Spork coming out. I've been doing lots of shit. And hey--there's an interview with me on Identity Theory. It just went up.

I like yr P-boz story too. But I like the Cancer one so much. It's a classic, Tao. A fucked up classic.

Check out this photo of me attached--it was for an editorial thing I wrote about selling used cassettes. That's my car cassette player.


From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Mar 7, 2006 9:56 PM
Subject: Blurb

Hi Tao,

[a few paragraphs about other things]

Now, as far as your flash fiction stuff goes, I'll give you a deadline of April 18th to get me a good twenty or so stories (guessing that each story is 1-3 pages). So if you have some that need polishing, you have just over a month. After I get the stories, I'll read through them and we'll figure out a game plan for release
date, etc.
Got any title ideas?

[i can't find the email where i sent sampsell the chapbook, either on april 17 or 18; he responded that he was looking forward to reading it; i don't know why i can't find these emails]

From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: May 1, 2006 10:19 PM
Subject: kevin

hi, kevin,

i'm afraid. have you read the manuscript? is it terrible?


From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: May 2, 2006 12:16 AM
Subject: Re: kevin

Hi Tao,
I've been swamped. Two new FT books in a week--and one of them needs lots of hype. I will read your manu soon (in the next month maybe) and I'm sure it's great.
I have an intern now. Did I tell you? She's great. She will lay your book out before her 3-month tenure is over I hope.

From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: May 2, 2006 12:18 AM
Subject: Re: kevin

oh ok. thank you. i thought you just did not like it.
ha, no i did not know about the intern.
i can lay out the book myself, i've done that with my poetry book.
you are busy. good.

From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: May 15, 2006 5:13 PM
Subject: Tao Lin Chapbook Final Draft

Dear Kevin,
I've been line editing it, and here is the real final draft.
Please read this one instead of the other one. Thank you.
I want to order Justin's book but didn't see it on your site yet.
Have a good day.
From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: May 15, 2006 7:24 PM
Subject: Re: Tao Lin Chapbook Final Draft

Thanks, Tao. I just had a crazy week full of writers and road trips. Good times. I saw Matthew Simmons up in Seattle and had a good talk with him and others.
I will check out this new edited version in the next month hopefully, I
promise. I'm still swamped for a little bit.


From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Jun 27, 2006 12:17 PM
Subject: Today the Sky

Hi Tao,
I read the manuscript this weekend. Lots of great stuff. Thanks!
Of course, with that said, there are a number of edits to go over. I'll have to go through the manuscript and highlight a few things and send it back to you later this week.

I know you wanted to lay your own book out and everything so we'll have to talk about that too. I'm not sure I agree with your thoughts on readers seeing when the end is coming, etc. but I'm willing to entertain your quirks in that regard. Ha!

But I do think the font should be a little bigger (or the lines spaced a little more--not double-spaced, but perhaps 1.5)--it just seems like a slightly uncomfortable reading/viewing experience as it is now.

Also, as far as the title goes, do you really want it to be:

I think even the title could use some editing. Remember, we want people to be able to remember it. How about: I WILL DESTROY OUR RELATIONSHIP TODAY or something else entirely.

Now, there are also a few stories I'd like to cut: It's a Snowy Night..., Should, and The Walking Wall.

I'd like to see how many pages the book turns out to be with these stories cut and with the font and spacing adjusted. Maybe we'll have room for some newer stories too. Take into consideration that there will be a title page, a page with the ISBN and acknowledgment stuff, and a contents page, so the stories would start on pg. 4 of the layout. If you have an extra page at the end, it would be nice to have a short Future Tense catalog kind of thing. We can put your bio (and blurbs!) on the back cover. What should we put on the front cover? I don't want it to be blank. That would be boring.

Tell me what you think. I'm hoping we can get this out by early September or thereabouts. (That gives us time to do some review copies if we want)...

From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: Jun 27, 2006 10:50 PM
Subject: Re: Today the Sky

hi, kevin,

i don't want to cut 'It's a snowy night,' or 'should.' it goes how i want it to go, as a book, with those stories where they are. 'should' in another draft is forthcoming in NOON, and it fits like i want it to where it is in that chapbook. it doesn't fit in any other book i have, not that i'm just putting it in here because of that. i will cut 'the walking wall,' though.

i'm sure about the title. i don't want to change the title. the font and spacing can be adjusted. the layout doesn't really matter to me, though i prefer small font. i would like it more if all the stories ended at the bottom of the pages, but if not i'm okay with that.

i'm not sure about the cover. i would like just the title in large solid color font on the cover so that it takes up the entire page. i'd do something else, though.

thank you.

From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Jun 28, 2006 12:37 PM
Subject: Re: Today the Sky

We could keep "Should" in there but it would have to be edited quite a bit. I don't really care if Diane Williams likes it; to me it was a frustrating reading experience. You said there's another draft though--maybe I should see that one.

"It's a Snow Night..." is just a weak story (and at one page, it's disposable).

Small fonts are a turn-off to readers. They really are. We want the reading experience NOT to be a pain. We want people to want to read the book. Which is another reason why the weaker stories should be cut. When someone reads a weak story in an otherwise great collection, it does seem to bring down the rest of the book a little.

I can see the cover with the title really big. That might work. Full color.

From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: Jun 28, 2006 2:43 PM
Subject: Re: Today the Sky


the shorter draft of 'should' is being worked on still. to me it's not a frustrating reading experience. people are different. i already cut, in my view, the stories that i thought were weak. probably you wouldn't agree with what i cut. it's just a question of whether the book should be what you like, what i like, or what we both like. you decide, i guess.

okay, we can do bigger font. though, again, same thing. i like bullfight review's small font, self-help, like life, white noise, etc., because you can see more of the story.

okay, the title really big then, i like that.

so we'll either keep or not keep 'should' and 'snowy night.' if we keep 'should' i will use the shorter draft. you decide in the next email and then i think everything is okay. thank you.

From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Jun 28, 2006 3:33 PM
Subject: Re: Today the Sky

Thanks, Tao. Let me see that other version when it's ready. And please, if there are other short flash fiction things you're holding back. Don't hold 'em back. What about your Elimae or Juked stuff?

As far as the book being what you like vs. what I like, that's not really the issue. I want to produce books that other readers will like. Your reders, my (Future Tense) readers, new readers, you know--readers! So, yes, the goal is to put something together we both like. I'm glad you understand this. And believe me, this is just a chapbook, when Dennis starts editing your other books, you'll probably get much harder edits than what I'm getting at.
From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: Jul 1, 2006 5:19 PM
Subject: Re: Today the Sky

i'll get you the new draft when it is ready. i want the new draft in the book, it will be much shorter than the draft you have now.

i didn't hold back! i took everything i had and took out the weak ones or ones that didn't fit and spent like three weeks staring at it putting it in order. everything else is either a novel excerpt or in the poetry collection.

how can we know what readers will like, though? i only know what i like, and to me there is no other reason for writing than to write what i want to read. otherwise it is business not art. i don't know how else to define 'art.' when i read a book i want to have the individual's artistic vision, not what is 'better' or what is done by committee or compromise. i'm just saying this to let you know how i view things. i would prefer to have final say on what goes in and what edits are used.

so, send me your edits and i'll look at them. thank you.
From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Jul 2, 2006 9:09 PM
Subject: edits attached

Hi Tao,
I understand what you're saying. I don't like the edit by commitee thing either. But remember, it's just me. And I know you're really young, so I mean to say that you should be more open to the suggestions of an experienced editor, bookseller, writer, publisher, book reviewer, etc.

I'm attaching the manuscript with my notes. Congrats on the Punk Planet story--and Noon too. I just sent Noon something as well.


p.s. Do you like Charles D'Ambrosio? Have you read his work?
From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: Jul 3, 2006 7:07 PM
Subject: Re: edits attached

hi, kevin,

i don't like charles d'ambrosio's writing. why do you ask?

okay, i have attached the file with my response to your edits. i took a few of the edits. and a file with the edits implemented. i want to keep the third story. i cut 'the walking wall.'

sorry i am so difficult with edits. i am like this with everyone, except when i don't care about a story or a book anymore. i don't think i'm 'better' than anyone else or that my view is 'better.' ideally i don't ever think in terms of 'better,' just 'different.' and for now i need to be able to say why i left out a certain sentence or a certain story and not have to say, 'because someone else didn't like the certain sentence or certain story.'

so, now i just have to get you the shorter draft of 'should.' i will do that soon.

if you will ONLY publish the book with your edits, though, then let me know and i'll have to think about that.

thank you.

From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: Jul 3, 2006 7:24 PM
Subject: Re: edits attached

kevin, i just thought more about it.

i want to cut SNOWY NIGHT IN VIRGINIA also, like you suggested. the second story is already about death. one story about death is enough. so, cut the SNOWY NIGHT story please.

i am sorry i am such an ass at this. i always get very anxious thinking about what to do.

From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Jul 3, 2006 9:44 PM
Subject: Re: edits attached

So, ok, we'll cut Snowy Night. Thanks for the edits and the notes. I will have to talk to you further about some of your notes. I'm glad you changed a couple things though.

I also saw your debate on the importance of editing on your blog. I wish I could comment but I don't have a blogger account. Anyway, I want to ask you--do you think that Lorrie Moore or Delilo or whoever doesn't have an editor? Don't make the mistake of calling copy-editing an act of treason. Most of my edits are copy-edits. Simple things that only make the story easier to read. I am not re-writing anything. I am making suggestions that will hopefully make you see the stories in a new and better (different) way. I've been edited many times before myself. 90% of the time for the better. One time an editor put brand new words in my article entirely and
I vowed not to write for them again (she was a bad editor). I am not inserting my language or whole new words into your story. Don't make my editing seem like something else. I'm not turning a 40-page story into 18 pages. I'm not editing Thomas Wolfe here. (and I hope you're not Kathy Acker!)

I know you're young and raw and wanting to blaze a new literary trail for sad, depressed writers everywhere but let me give you this advice: Work with your editors. You don't want to be known as the most difficult writer to work with (especially there in New York).

The reason I mention D'Ambrosio is mostly to point out a possible editing detail. I read and liked some of D'Ambrosio's collection, but I notice that his NYer stories are the most dull, as oppossed to his story in A Public Space, which was much better. And Rebecca Curtis's NYer story was dull too. I think the New Yorker editors must really like to drain the blood from their stories (for the most part--I know George Saunders has published good stuff there).


From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Jul 5, 2006 5:47 PM
Subject: Re: edits attached

Hi Tao,
I've attached your noted manuscript with further notes from me. Please get back to me on these by the end of the week. Lorrie Moore is in Portland this weekend. I'll ask her about her editor. I'm also writing a story for AP about blurbs (why people want them, why they read them, etc).

From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: Jul 5, 2006 7:31 PM
Subject: Re: edits attached

hi, kevin,

i've attached responses to your edits. i think i took one or two more. and i've attached a draft with all the changes made, and SNOWY NIGHT taken out. though... you aren't going to like this... but i put back THE WALKING WALL. i asked people and they said to keep it and i had always wanted to keep it. sorry.

yes, i know delillo and lorrie moore and every other famous writer gets edited more than i do. i also don't understand what their philosophy of living is. they publish on corporate publishers. i think delillo just observes society. lorrie moore i can more understand since she writes about feeling depressed in relationships, which has nothing to do with society. yes, they are famous and respected. i don't know what the point of being famous and respected is. you used the word 'better' many times. read james chapman's comments on the editing. i agree with him. in business there is 'better' because there is a goal. in art there is no 'better' because there is no goal, except for what goals each individual creates arbitrarily for him or herself. but then i want to not be concerned with 'identity' so maybe i should let everyone edit anything they want of mine, but then the extreme of that would be to not have my name attached at all to the writing and not have an identity at all, which is impossible. i haven't thought enough about this yet but i will.

the new yorker has like 900,000 readers, so i can understand. they need to make it so 900,000 readers will not be too offended or feel too wierd or condescended towards. the more editing that goes into a story, maybe, given that the author has worked as hard as he or she can on the story, the more the story will affect a greater number of people but with a less impact, i think. i'm not trying to be successful and famous, or rich, so i am OK with being known as a 'difficult' writer. sorry if i sound like an ass. i really appreciate that you are publishing me and taking the time to do such small edits. you are right, they are small edits, you aren't trying to change me at all. i've thought hard about each of the edits and considered them. thank you.

From: Kevin Sampsell
To: Tao Lin
Date: Jul 9, 2006 6:55 PM
Subject: What's Gone Wrong

> in art there is no 'better' because there is no goal, except for what
goals each individual creates arbitrarily for him or herself. <

Hi Tao,
Sadly, I'm not really sure what's gone wrong with us. I feel like your writing and attitude has changed since the time we first talked about doing this book. You seemed more playful and open before. Now you just seem stubborn and immature (not just with the editing struggles we're having but also with your oppressive philosophies on writing, publishing, and editing).

I thought about publishing your book unedited (as you wanted) with an introduction by me explaining the various things I don't like about the book. But then, I figured I'd still be publishing (paying for/representing/standing behind) a book that I couldn't feel good about. I just can't do it. I've decided to cancel the publication of your book. I'm sorry.

I will still count myself as a fan of some of your work but I can't waste any more time on trying to help you when you refuse to see things from a reader's point of view. If you just want to write stuff that you, your friends, and your mom like, that is fine. Best of luck. My goal has always been giving writers a chance to gain more readers. If I ask writers to rethink something or consider changes, I only do so with the integrity of the writer in mind. I don't feel like my edits were compromising your work at all but you chose to be difficult. I do honestly hope we can work together on something someday after you've matured more.

Kevin Sampsell
From: Tao Lin
To: Kevin Sampsell
Date: Jul 9, 2006 7:31 PM
Subject: Re: What's Gone Wrong


Why did you quote that sentence I typed? It seems correct to me. Is it immature? It seems like something I probably read from Schopenhauer or Fernando Pessoa. I like Schopenhauer and Fernando Pessoa. I am sad you would call a person immature for trying to figure out a philosophy in life that might minimize pain/suffering. I also feel like we're in 4th grade. I've always been polite and expressed appreciation and gratitude and explained why I made a certain choice in terms of editing or not editing, and have even explained the philosophy that made me choose what I did. I don't know what 'mature' means.

I'm not interesting in helping myself. If I wanted to help myself in the way you are talking about, which is to gain as many readers as possible as an ends to itself (it seems like you don't want to discuss or consider philosophies of editing or writing beyond 'gaining readers,' at least not without calling the other person immature, which I think is your way of telling me that you know more than me, and so will only ever process anything I say or type as, I don't know, 'cute,' or something), I would write a young adult novel or adult romance novel with cultural identity issues, a strong plot leading to a happy ending (so it can be made into a movie, for more cash and more readers), and maybe a murder mystery.

So, just to let you know my thoughts.

I don't know how to further discuss things with someone who has earnestly called me 'immature.'

these are the edits sampsell sent me (chapbook excerpts are in normal font, what sampsell typed is in italics, what i typed is in bold):

Another voice says, The first rule of fight club is. I hear someone being slapped in the head. (fight club reference? this is a dumb joke) [Yes, the high school kids made a dumb fight club joke. I like it here.] (I just think it’s old already. We’re both gonna cringe about this. I mean, I already am) [I’ve read and edited this story for two years. I’m not cringing yet. I want to remember Fight Club. I can’t just forget about Fight Club. And the joke is STUPID. Look, the next sentence is the person who said the joke being slapped in the head. In Fight Club they have no inhibitions. Richie has many inhibitions, it only serves to make him feel shittier, and for contrast for the reader. I didn’t think of any of these reasons, but they are there, I guess. I just like that the high schoolers made a Fight Club joke, then got slapped. They would do it.]

I think about people (what people? This is too vague) [How he feels regarding people—they make him feel nervous—is shown elsewhere]. (it just seems like lazy writing to me. I say cut it.) [No, this seems right. I’ve thought about sleeping at home, thought about people, and felt sad before.]

It’s 3 a.m. or something (I don’t like the recurring time thing in this story. It’s too distracting. I think you can mention the time a few times but it gets to the point where the reader is thinking about the time more than the story. I’ve highlighted other time mentions. Maybe you can figure out a way to delete or alter them somehow) [The character is concerned about time. How much more time there is until he can fall asleep, how much time there is until the summer is over, how much time there is until he is dead.]. (Thanks for explaining this. As a reader though, it makes the story sluggish in a bad way. It’s apparent that the character is concerned with time, or at least the slowness of time.)

Besides my bed and all that stuff (what ‘stuff’? Don’t be so vague) [This is a realistic and appealing way, to me, as a two sentence internal monologue. “There is nothing…” “Besides… all that stuff.” And is consistent with the character’s voice. “No way out of anything…” etc.] (I see what you are saying, or trying to convey, but I think this kind (“all that stuff”) of detail-less writing is not satisfying to the reader). [It is very satisfying to me when Frederick Barthelme is extremely vague like this. It is representative of real life, of the kind of people I like to talk with, and unwriterly and therefore underrepresented in fiction, from what I’ve read.]

There is still the Summer ahead, like a beach or parking lot (what?!) [Beaches and parking lots are hot and flat] (so maybe you should say, hot and flat like a beach or parking lot—I like that. it sounds much better that way, now that I know what you mean). [It doesn’t sound right that way, too writerly. In real life I would say ‘the summer is like a beach or parking lot,’ and if I was with the right person they would understand. I would never say ‘hot and flat like a beach or parking lot.’]

Where do I work? What do I do for money? I can’t remember. I feel good. I feel great. (I don’t like the sudden positive change. Delete these.) [This is one of my favorite parts of this story. It feels true, it is honest. I don’t know. It is just true.] (maybe you should say something about this mix of emotions-- worry and happiness—that’ll convince me that it’s true. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work) [He can’t remember his life, and feels good. I don’t know, it just seems funnier and more true this way, without explanation and almost like a non sequitur.]

“I’m bored,” I say. “Are you bored of me?” (I think he should just ask the question instead of saying ‘I’m bored.’) [It is much more interesting to me for him to say first that he is bored. The other way feels cliché and expected to me. Also, it’s just what the character, who is me, would actually say in that situation.] (okay)

“I liked being raised by dolphins,” I said. (sort of annoying to repeat it. I’d cut this one) [People repeat the same things in real life if the other person does not react. This is realistic and it slows the story down here very much, which I like.] (it feels like a typo to me. Can you at least say ‘I said again’?) [Sorry, no. This story has no memory of what’s behind it. No ‘Thens’ ‘Buts’ or ‘Sos.’ I’ve tried it with ‘again’ and I don’t like it.]

I felt something wrap around my head. (I tightened this sentence up) [Okay. Good. Thank you. Wait. I just looked at it like this and then read it onto the next paragraph and it doesn’t feel right to me. I changed it back. It is in first-person, so it is not concerned with tightening, it’s a person telling a story.] (even a first-person narrative can be tightened. Just because it’s first person doesn’t mean he has to use terrible grammar) [You are right. I didn’t explain it good enough. It needs ‘That there was,’ I think, because without it it is too sudden and familiar. It is a surprise to him and kind of ‘slowly dawns on him’ that something is wrapped around his head. So he would think, ‘There was something wrapped around my head.’ Instead of ‘Something wrapped around my head.’ Just try reading it both ways. It feels better the longer way to me.]

That way, upon leaving their UFOs, their jetlag and space malaise would be immediately mollified by the greenery and smoothness of a hill. (hills are sloped. Maybe you should say ‘slope of a hill’ or ‘landscape of a hill’) [The aliens would be mollified by the smoothness of the hill, not by the slopiness.] (But I’m saying hills are not smooth, but slanted. At least say ‘slanted smoothness’ or something like that) [To me, hills are smooth. What I said doesn’t preclude the slantedness of hills, it just focuses on the smoothness. I don’t want to make this longer. In real life I would not stop to explain, I would not want to listen to someone stop to explain, but I would just understand.]

He slammed his room (do you mean ‘He went to his room and slammed the door’?) [I fixed it.]He yelled at the closed door (or ‘yelled through the wall) [He yelled at the closed door.] (thanks)

“We are your bones and we don’t care,” said Neil’s bones. (maybe these parts where non-human things ‘speak’ it should be italics, as I’ve changed it here—and maybe without the quotes) [I don’t like italics. I want everything to be the same.] (that’s fine. I understand, but then maybe we should lose the quotes) [Taking away the quotes is too academic to me. In Neil’s head they are speaking. It’s the same as a person speaking. I wouldn’t be able to defend why I took away the quotes. I feel like I would have to write an essay explaining that inanimate objects don’t ‘really’ speak,’ or something.]

“Neil,” said Neil’s mom.

Neil wrote a story about a man who had very good things happen to him. “The man was great. He was the happiest man ever, the best! Each day more good things would happen to him, and it was great, and the best. The man lived forever and kept getting happier.” (I don’t understand where that paragraph comes from. I say cut to the drive.) [Okay. I cut those two paragraphs. Thank you.] (thank you)

“That’s not my wife,” I say. “Who is that?”
“Yeah, that’s my wife,” I say. “So what?”(these two parts are confusing. Can you put something between them, like: ‘I feel guilty for lying’ or ‘I pause for a moment’ or something like that) [I like it like this. The reason I like some writers more than others is because they do things like this and leave out the explanation.] (If it stays this way, then we’re supposed to leave the quotes off after ‘Who is that?’ which might look weird. I suggest a small transition or action of some sort before he acknowledges that’s his wife. Get it?) [Leave the quotes. It is fine. I always hated the way the quotes got left off when a new paragraph began. I’ve seen this before, I know, in Bobbie Ann Mason or someone, and liked it. Because it makes sense this way, though it does not follow the rules.]

They stand there looking at Janet and I and I (clean this up. It’s awkward) look back at them. [Okay. I fixed it. Thank you.] (thanks)

It’s this guy (try ‘A man.’) [Okay. Good. Thank you.].

I’m telling my husband and son what happened. (wait a sec. Where were they at before? You should mention them earlier) [No. This story is dreamlike. It doesn’t matter. It’s funnier to me this way.] (I like dreamlike. I mean I really fuckin’ love it. But this is just unclear and totally awkward and confusing, in a bad way. Ask some friends what they think and get back to me) [The son was in his room, probably, and the husband was sleeping. Now they are at dinner. I don’t see how this is even ‘dreamlike.’ Ryan Boudinot edited this when it was in Hobart and he didn’t say anything about this. My mom didn’t either. And it seems okay, to me.]

I’m annoyed. I trip a little and a thing of tomato sauce falls out of a bag and shatters on the ground (‘ground’ sounds like it’s outside. Maybe you should say ‘on the kitchen floor’ or something—or are you outside?) [I changed it to ‘floor.’]. (thanks)

(this story doesn’t really do much. We should probably cut it too). [This is one of my favorite stories and also one my mom’s favorite stories. I want to stress that people are different, which means they like different things. I want to keep this story.] (okay)

I’m driving; Chrissy’s sitting passenger; we used to date. (change to periods) [It occurs as one thought, as do a few other sentences in this story, so I like it with semicolons.] (okay)

I feel strange. (you already showed this, so you don’t have to tell it) [I like when a character feels something then later expresses it. I like it when it happens in real life to people I know, I like it when I do it, I like it when I read it. So I like it.] (it really is redundant. And amateurish. I say take it out.) [No. Sorry. I just laughed a little. I feel bad, I keep saying no. I would have to disown a lot of these things if I had to take out what I wrote there. I don’t want to do that. People have told me they like it when my characters think something and then later say it out loud. I like it also when I read it somewhere.]

“Soy beans,” I think. “Tofu. Seaweed. White rice.” (Italics please!) (this is fine, but as I asked earlier—w/o quotes?) [With quotes.]

There were lizards! Sandy’s sister had on make-up and she flew out a window, over us, like more than one kite! (why more than one? ‘like a kite’ is a better image I think) [‘like a kite’ is too lyrical for this voice, which is whimsical and childlike, which is why ‘more than one kite.’] (it’s just one person, so why would it be more than one thing? I don’t like more than one kite’. Change the analogy and it will be more effective)

But he was moving through the clouds, in a plane, under a seatbelt (what?) [He is under a seatbelt in the plane.] (you mean he’s wearing a seatbelt? If he’s under the seatbelt, does that mean he’s the size of Gumby?)

Six times and I had waved Sandy all the way back to moose-filled Canada! (this ending is sort of a clunker, could we have something that rings a bit more. Resonate! I like the exclamation points though. Perhaps you can utilize them more) [Hmm. This entire story to me is in the title, so it doesn’t really lead up to anything, it should just end without a ‘resonating image.’ So I like it like this.] (So maybe the story should JUST be the title then. Are you saying you don’t care about the actual story? I’m just trying to give you an idea on how to make the story better, or, sorry, different) [I mean I don’t want the ending to resonate. I think it’s good with this ending. I’ve thought about others.]

I go to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. (perhaps something a little less hip and time sensitive. This isn’t the year 2000 anymore) [It is funnier with dave eggers. His book was there when I wrote the story. I think his book was there prominently in paperback from 2001-2004 or something. I can’t think of another book. This one is just funnier.] (it seems like you could pick out a book or writer you really hate. Like David Foster Wallace or something. I’m not Dave Eggers’s boyfriend or anything, I just think it makes the story seem a little stale) [I don’t hate Eggers. It is just funniest, to me, with Eggers. Also, I’ve seen his paperback, it has a lot of blank pages for some reason, more than other books.]

I’ll give them assignments, like in Fight Club (do we have to mention F.C.??) [Yes. I like mentioning fight club.] (okay, but that first mention…ugh)
there are 3 ways to deal with editing

allow selected people to edit your work and accept selected edits
allow anyone to edit your work and accept all edits
allow no one to edit your work

1 is used by probably 90-99% of writers/editors, here is an interview with a person who uses 1:
Q. why did you let gordon lish delete that sentence?
A. because gordon lish is respected and i trust him and i think it made the story better
Q. what do you mean by 'better'?
A. the story used to be bad, now it's good, i think
Q. what do you mean by 'bad' and 'good'?
A. gordon lish says the story is good now but was bad before; and i agree; when i read it now i feel something at the end whereas before i felt nothing
Q. why do you want to write stories that make people feel things?
A. because that is the point of art
Q. schopenhauer said something like: art can induce momentary transcendence of the world of phenomenon (by somehow dissolving 'identity,' or something like that), is that what you mean by 'make people feel things,' the point of art?
A. yes, maybe that's what i mean
Q. so when you said 'good' you meant 'effective for destroying identity'?
A. i haven't thought about it, i've been using the word 'good' for forty years, reading it in the new york times book review, looking at people point at art and say 'good' or 'bad'
Q. what are you doing tonight?
A. working on a story, making it good, i'd like to get published by missouri review
Q. why would you like that?
A. i think you need that to get a literary agent
Q. why do you want to write 'good' stories?
A. so i can publish a book someday
Q. why do you want to publish a book?
A. many reasons
Q. name 5
A. i want to be respected, i'm bored, women will like me more, i'll have more sex, people won't think i'm stupid
Q. those all have to do with identity and desire; why do you want to write stories that induce moments of pre-identity and pre-desire if your life is about trying to distinguish/strengthen identity in order to fulfill desires easier?
A. you don't make sense to me; you're trying to provoke me but i'm just trying to be a better writer and write good stories and if someone can help me i'm going to be grateful for the favor, not be an asshole about it; i just want to be a good person and a better writer; stop fucking with me, stop thinking so hard
Q. isn't literature writing what you thought; isn't it 'thinking'
A. yes, but you are thinking too hard
Q. 'too' means i'm doing something 'wrong' which means you know what's 'right' which means you have a goal in life, so what is it?
A. not to think too hard
Q. are you involved in politics?
A. i hate george w bush
Q. does your writing contribute at all to those politics, to stopping bush?
A. no, art and politics are separate; art is about the mystery, politics is about reality
Q. is politics about reducing pain/suffering in the world?
A. yeah, i guess
Q. what's the cause of pain/suffering? desire?
A. getting hurt
Q. why do you want to publish a book? to reduce pain/suffering in the world? then how's art separate from politics
A. does everything i do have to be about reducing pain/suffering in the world?
Q. what's the difference between (1) not reducing pain/suffering in the world and reducing pain/suffering in the world and (2) causing pain/suffering in the world and not causing pain/suffering in the world?
A. they're different
Q. why do you read?
A. to be smarter, reading's good
Q. what do you mean by 'good'
A. makes me smarter
2 is used i think by most copywriters and certain journalists (people who are paid to write, for example, video game instruction manuals or press releases)

2 is also used by 'buddhists who write' or people who believe pain/suffering can be lessened by weakening one's identity

here is an interview with a person who uses 2 and is a copywriter or someone who writes for money (it's a spectrum, most people that use 1, mentioned above, are usually also like this, to some degree):
Q. why did you delete the hot dog metaphor in that sentence?
A. boss told me to, my boss pays me to write; i use the money to pay my mortgage and buy food and things
Q. are you happy?
A. the job is boring but i get paid
Q. so you write for money?
A. yes, i write for money
Q. why do you read?
A. some books are funny
Q. do you think people need books
A. people need houses and to eat and have friends; to get a house you get a job and do what the boss says; books are like video games, or table tennis; even if you like those things a lot you can live without them
Q. so you write to get a house, etc., would you write to get respect? to feel liked?
A. yes, probably
Q. so writing is what you do to get other things
A. yes
here is an interview with a person who uses 2 and believes identity can't be destroyed completely, only in degrees, and that the less identity one has the less pain/suffering one feels:
Q. you let anyone edit your work, you don't put your name on your work, you don't care about the work once you've written it; why?
A. because once the work is on the paper there is no concrete way to trace it back to me, unless you go into the past, but the past does not exist (to me, at least), so identity is a lie which causes desire, which causes suffering and which is in opposition to 'oneness'
Q. you don't care if people plagiarize your work?
A. does a tree care if another tree grows a similar leaf?
Q. trees aren't conscious
A. i don't want to be conscious either; consciousness is simultaneous with identity; thought and movement creates identity
Q. why don't you kill yourself?
A. because there probably isn't a way to be conscious and have no desires, but one can be conscious and have less desires, and that's what i want
Q. how?
A. one way is by relinquishing control as much as possible without dying
Q. if you write something and it wins the national book award, then what?
A. i will focus on not feeling differently than if any other book had won; identity demands self-definition, which demands you be a member of society, which requires you use words like 'progress,' 'respect,' 'legitimacy,' 'good,' 'bad' which involve you in hierarchies therefore desires and to distinguish yourself from others via having a stronger identity
Q. what if the news people come to your house and step on your potato garden after you win the nobel prize?
A. i'll probably realize i should stop publishing writing in ways allowing things like 'national book award' to qualify it
Q. but can't literature also destroy people's identities a little; induce moments where you  don't know you exist separately from anything else? isn't that what you want?
A. i don't know
Q. do you think that the more edited a work is (and by more editors) the less identity-destroying power it will have, but on a greater number of people?
A. yes, that seems right
Q. so the more popular a book, the less effect it will have on a greater number of people
A. what's your point
Q. your art, since it's edited by whomever whenever, will have almost no effect on people; it will be like watching a sitcom, you forget it immediately, it doesn't dissolve identity or desire, it doesn't reduce pain/suffering in the world; but actually probably increases it, since it's accessibility will be exploited by publicly-owned companies to increase shareholders' investments in the same companies
A. that's why i'm not writing anymore; the more you think, unless you think like a robot, the stronger your identity; i'm going to meditate under a tree
Q. you're not
A. i'm probably going to walk by the river and try to feel calm
Q. then what?
A. i don't know
Q. how do you feel better?
A. reading books in which characters say they 'feel fucked,' that's one way
3 is used by people who believe art can reduce loneliness, that you can express yourself accurately, in a book, to someone else, who can receive the communication and want to be your friend and, upon meeting you, feel like they've met the creator of what they read, to a satisfying degree, since the art would represent only you (not '2 people' or '2 people plus 50 imaginary readers' or whatever)
Q. why don't you let anyone edit your work?
A. because i don't think there's 'better' only 'different'
Q. why do you edit your own work? isn't it to make it 'better'?
A. for my own writing i can look at it and know how to make it better, but 'better' only for myself, from my perspective; the word 'better' exists only in the individual and is based upon the individual's worldview
Q. what do you mean by 'worldview'
A. what assumptions the individual has made in the universe within what context; if the individual assumes that pain/suffering is bad and then takes the context of the earth and only human beings and not animals for the next 50 years then the person's writing will be 'better' if it reduces pain/suffering for human beings on earth for the next 50 years
Q. how can writing reduce pain/suffering?
A. it can make someone laugh, it can make a person feel less lonely; it can teach a person to be more conscious of other people's pains/sufferings; it can show a person a shittier life than their own, which can reduces pain/suffering
Q. wouldn't you let someone else edit your work if the edited version will reduce pain/suffering in the world?
A. no, because everyone has a different worldview; someone else's 'better' is not my 'better'
Q. but all people want to reduce pain/suffering in the world, obviously
A. but people have different contexts; most people only include their generation and the next one or two generations; most people do not include animals in their assumption (that pain/suffering is bad), and most people only include earth and not, say, the moons of saturn; one moon has an underwater ocean i think and maybe there are squid there that can be considered when one writes something
Q. but by not allowing people to edit your work aren't you being very protective of your 'identity,' which probably increases loneliness, pain, and suffering?
A. yeah; i don't know; but if i let someone else edit my work and the work is read by someone and that someone feels less lonely because of the work, because they feel that the work expresses exactly how they feel, and wants to be friends with the creator of the work, they will never be able to fulfill that; they cannot be friends with the creator of the work if the creator of the work is more than one person, therefore they cannot ever really become less lonely, except in their own imagination
Q. but what is the difference between an imaginary friend and a real friend?
A. i don't know
Q. everyone has a different worldview; no one should edit anyone else; what should people do then?
A. i don't know; there is no 'should,' there are only different assumptions and different contexts; everything i think or say is thought or said sarcastically, knowing that i have made assumptions and created contexts, just like everyone else
Q. why are you talking then? talking is always rhetorical, you are always influencing others whether you want to or not, you are always teaching your assumptions and contexts
A. it's done sarcastically; existence itself is sarcastic; free will is sarcastic, it is a pretend thing; consciousness within a universe that operates on physical laws is sarcastic; it is two things existing at once that cannot be reconciled
Q. you don't believe in 'right' or 'wrong'
A. not outside the individual, and within the invididual not unsarcastically
Q. is killing wrong?
A. even if your assumption is 'pain/suffering is bad' killing might be 'right' if your context does not exclude any time, if your context includes from now until the end of time, because if all life was killed now there would be no more pain/suffering
Q. can anyone ever do anything sincerely in the world?
A. i don't know what the word 'sincere' means
Q. what is 'an opinion'
A. there are no opinions, only different assumptions/contexts
Q. does that console you? that existence is un-understandable and there's no 'right' or 'wrong' and everyone is equally confused and baseless in their assumptions/contexts?
A. yes
Q. how?
A. no one knows anything, that is comforting
Q. why?
A. i guess it isn't comforting, since i feel shitty most of the time
Q. what are you going to do?
A. i don't know
Q. why so extreme? why is it either that you let people edit everything you write or that you let no one edit anything you write?
A. i need a philosophy that will tell me what to do at all times because otherwise i feel confused and nervous all the time
Q. but you still know that whatever philosophy you come up with it is based on assumptions and contexts, right?
A. yes, i know
Q. why do anything?
A. if i'm with someone i like i'm less lonely which can feel good
Q. so what is your philosophy that tells you what to do at all times?
A. my assumption is that pain/suffering is bad and my context is to exclude is little as possible; so i don't eat animals, i try to think as far into the future as possible, and i try to not think only about the earth but also other galaxies, which is ridiculous and makes it almost impossible for me to live, but which in itself reduces pain/suffering because of its effect of always increasing, or at least not decreasing, my awareness of other people/animals
Q. but animals in the wild, and humans, suffer a lot; wouldn't your worldview actually dictate that you eat animals and pollute the earth, or build/detonate a nuclear bomb to permanently stop humans from terrorizing other galaxies?
A. maybe, but i want to live
Q. so your context really includes yourself, then?
A. maybe
Q. should other people be edited?
A. if no one edited anyone else and art was always viewed as 'unique,' and 'uniqueness' was valued, people would probably be more tolerant and there'd be less violence, i think
Q. you're forcing your worldview onto other people by telling them not to view art in terms of 'better' but 'different'
A. i do it sarcastically; i don't believe in anything
Q. why do you care if you're edited or not, then?
A. like i said, my assumption is that pain/suffering is bad, and by telling people not to edit me maybe i'm also influencing how they edit other people, maybe they will also edit other people less, maybe they will stop editing and make their own art and express themselves and let others express themselves and maybe in time the word 'better' will exist less, therefore pain/suffering might exist less; still, i know my assumption is no more 'right' than anyone else's, or even if i'm actually reducing pain/suffering beyond my tiny context, tiny temporally and physically
Q. how can you live then?
A. i do it sarcastically; or i don't really; i don't 100% care about anything because i know it's impossible for me to know if my actions have the effects i intend, and to what degree; i don't know what it means to feel sad and i don't know how it is possible to feel sad but i still feel sad, sometimes, and it's the same with other emotions, and i don't think i understand what 'emotion' references


N A said...

There's war in the middle east.

Noah Cicero said...

Kathy Acker

Steve said...

I am trying to distract the editor and publisher at work so I can print the post to take in my car.

james chapman said...

thank you for posting this.

Noah Cicero said...

I don't think it was an violation of his privacy. Tao and kevin were talking business. They were discussing a product that would be sold for money. A personal email would be if Sampsell talked about sexual things or something.

james chapman said...

the editing part made me sick to read.

this is exactly what it's like. most of the decisions are exactly that tone-deaf and unnecessary.

i can't believe he was even going to ruin the title.

most editors read for smoothness, and if anything jars the smoothness, that's bad.

it's like when an audio engineer listens to a string quartet. he is hearing the recording, the frequencies, the noise floor, the microphone phase problem. he is so far from hearing the performance that there's no hope of him hearing even farther, into the composition.

if he were free to do so, he would remove the cello part, add a trumpet, try to make a more balanced audio artifact, a more perfect recording. but the history of music doesn't give him that power.

the history of literature gives book editors the power to do anything. and their gatekeeper status means that writers will feel very strange and scared when they fight to keep their lines the way they were written.

if you walk into barnes and noble today, there are what, ten thousand novels? of these, there are only 20 or 30 books that have not been changed by an editor or an agent.

the "unchanged" books are really new editions of classic books, where scholars have removed the changes made by some editor in 1923 or 1857 and restored the "director's cut" version of the book.

we are in a dark ages of literature, kind of like the studio system of hollywood, where for 50 years the only kind of film you could see was one filtered through the machine.

maybe the internet is the only way this can end. i don't know.

it's not "immature" to resist it.

anybody who writes, and hasn't had to deal with editing yet, should read your post, and get ready.

Gene said...

there's a penis.

james chapman said...

his final email comes as a surprise.

if he was only making a few minor edits, "just copyediting," then why would he refuse to publish the book without these supposedly minor edits?

especially when it was clear that the author had seriously considered them, and explained his reason for wanting them kept?

what made him so angry?

this is why writers usually cave in to editors, and give them at least half of what they ask for. because the writer's afraid this exact same thing will happen, and the book will be cancelled.

editors will always edit, whether it's necessary or not. and they will often be very upset if you prevent them from editing. because, as nugatory as it is, that is sometimes their only creative outlet.

i don't mean kevin; i don't know anything about him.

Tao Lin said...


yes, there is war in the middle east

if you replaced everyone in the middle east with james chapman there would not be war in the middle east

if you replaced everyone in the middle east with susan sontag there would be war in the middle east

right now people in the 'independent lit world,' or, the 'lit game,' are being taught to be susan sontags

also, death isn't bad


why did sampsell say kathy acker?

i was confused


'a violation of Kevin's privacy'

thank you for writing that completely meaningless phrase which i actually addressed in the post itself in response to my post

thank you


why is there a penis in the comments section


i was surprised also

really i just think that he honestly didn't really like my writing that much

i don't know, maybe he liked my other things that i didn't put in the chapman; i didn't put the lorrie moore things in because i thought they were immature

or maybe he just wanted me to be the kind of author who in thirty years would say something like, 'kevin sampsell taught me everything i know about writing'

i really don't know why the chapbook was cancelled

he didn't give me an ultimatum, he didn't say something like, 'i'll publish the book only if you take all my edits'

the edits were so small, i might've done that, since i spent like 100 hours or something putting it together and editing it

Tao Lin said...

"i don't know, maybe he liked my other things that i didn't put in the chapman; i didn't put the lorrie moore things in because i thought they were immature"

i just called 'the chapbook' 'the chapman'

i'm laughing

Tao Lin said...

i forgot to put the edits he had for the last story in the book, i'm putting those in now

Tao Lin said...

i want to go to readings and say, 'there is war in the middle east'

then go to people playing chess in the park and say, 'there is war in the middle east'

then go to an ant and say, 'there is war in the middle east' and step on it

then buy a coffee and say, 'there is war in the middle east,' and leave without paying

then say 'kathy acker' when they arrest me

Tao Lin said...

people keep saying they disagree with me

how can you disagree with a post that doesn't make any points really and then admits that it doesn't no anything?

it's like me pointing at a dog and saying, 'if that dog jumps off the bridge it will probably fall; maybe, going by the laws of the universe, depending on a few things' and the first thing you tell me is that you disagree with me

Tao Lin said...

when i said about going places saying 'there's war in the middle east' i'm serious, i'm not making fun of anyone or being bitter; it would just be something i could do

Mike Young said...

"how you view editing will be how you view what to do when you see a homeless person acting strange in the park"

If this is a point then I disagree with it. If it's not, then I guess I don't.

Bryan Coffelt said...


he wanted to fuck with that title?

that is bullshit. it's a title.

there is war in the middle east, so no one should bother devoting time to titles.

i need to go get drunk now because i think things are going to get serious, and i don't like dealing with serious things because serious things irritate me and i get depressed or mad and no one likes me when i do that.

Nicholas said...

Well, I doubt Kevin Sampsell will be very mad at you, if you're still worried about that. I think he acquitted himself admirably in those emails, and has no reason to be upset that people will see what he wrote. I wouldn't be.

Noah Cicero said...

Stavrogin's Confession
end of great expectations

The Man Who Couldn't Blog said...

I continue to reject your central premise. Art is "good" and "bad." Art does, and always should, get judged. The very act of making art of any kind is the act of creating something that will and should be judged.

Subjectively. Yes, subjectively. We get it. We know. The problem of subjectivity has been haunting the philosophical debate for a long time. And it will continue to haunt it. It's there. I am me and only me. You are you and only you. You have an identity, and no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to destroy it. I look at a story and say, "Wow, what a lousy story," and it's a little form of tyrrany that I dare pass judgement on something that I can never be fully engaged with because it is the product of a single consciousness that is not my own.

It's true. It's all true. But I will continue to judge.

The world continues.

What you are saying is that art cannot fail. I reject that. Art fails. I create art, and sometimes I fail. I risk it.

"Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Samuel Beckett said that.

Your philosophy is the death of art. It is bloodless. It says that no art fails, because no one is allowed to judge art as a failure.

You are bulletproofing your art. I'm sorry, but, to put it bluntly, this is cowardice. The money is a canard. You are building a rhetorical shield.

If you are not willing to risk failure, stop writing.

Gene said...

there is such a loose concept of what is art and what is not, that even if you do feel that there is a concrete way to see 'good' and 'bad' (as i sometimes do), it doesn't really mean much to anyone but yourself.

i think this is more or less the point being made.

i believe in minimalism. i will talk about minimalism, and the concepts of minimalism until i am a fucking circle. but does that mean that everyone and everything can be judged based on what i think, as opposed to what some critic or editor thinks? who has the power to absolutely decide?

no one.

however, what i think does matter in the context of bear parade.

i make judgements, with tao lin i should add, about what work fits on the site. and i'm sure kevin felt the same as i do sometimes, that after reviewing the work, he just didn't think it fit with future tense.

oh, wait. no. he didn't.

he took issue with tao's "oppressive philosophies on writing, publishing,
and editing."

it's not good or bad art that should be discussed here.

how is tao oppressive?

if anything, i would think the exact opposite.

Gene said...

i like how i just made a "discuss" post.

also, matthew, i like how you are fighting. this is fun.

james chapman said...

something seems mixed up here.

some people (like me) wish for a life that isn't based on judging others, or of what others think of us.

other people say that judgement is the only way to live with any clarity, and that we do it every day out of necessity.

that's all fine.

it's not judgement we're talking about here.

if i judge "the waves" to be a sucky book, i can write an essay explaining my opinion, i can demand that eveyone agree with me, i can start an anti-virginia-woolf literary tea-circle.

all that is ok. it's as legitimate as any other way of wasting my time.

but if i call back all copies of "the waves" and destroy them, and change the book to my liking and republish it, so that nobody can ever read the original version again, that is not about judging the object. that is exerting power over the object.

editors don't just express opinions. they enforce them.

james chapman said...

editors are very very valuable in most disciplines, by the way. history books would be unreadable without them. most researchers don't really know how to write well. they often need a person who understands prose to help them. prose is just not their field.

and if a historian with a tin ear were to cling to his bad, clinker phrases, and his confusing structure, then i guess an editor at a publishing house would have the right to say, look, we'll publish this, but only if we can make changes so it's readable.

a poet or literary novelist is a person who understands prose.

he writes prose and puts his name on it as being his, as expressing the heart of himself.

if you admire him enough to publish him, you need to grant him his opinions on the sentence level and on the structure level.

you can bring up concerns. i've done that with authors. i've warned them that readers or reviwers are going to have certain reactions to certain things.

sometimes an author will listen to what i say. but i make it clear to him that that his is the final decision. because he is the actual craftsman of the prose, not me. his name goes on the cover. he has to look at the book for the rest of his life, and know that it represents his own work in every detail, and not feel pissed that he's been misrepresented.

you have to edit, if the writing is doing the opposite of what the writer intended. bad ambiguity is just stupid. i had an author change the end of a novella once. because it wasn't clear. and he hadn't realized it wasn't clear.

but even then, i told him that if he wanted it the way it was, it would go out the way it was.

because the rest of the book was so good. and i do not have the right to make changes on my own.

that's just me. but i think our books are good, and speak pretty well for this approach.

Tao Lin said...

i need to change that sentence a little

thank you for reading the post and understanding it was about whose edits were 'correct'

you typed 'should'
can you please explain 'why'?
i feel like i am a scientist and you are a magician, it is impossible for us to communicate
the post did not say that art 'should not' be judged, it just showed the causes and effects of when art is or is not judged
there is no 'should'
did you read the last interview about assumptions and contexts?

"What you are saying is that art cannot fail."

no, what parts of the post said is that in order for the word 'fail' to have meaning you need to have an assumption and a context and a goal

you need to tell me what your assumption, context, and goal are

i know what beckett said

it's romantic, what beckett said, it's like a hallmark card

i just want to ask 'why'?

and, 'what the fuck are you talking about?'

Tao Lin said...

i don't want to argue

like i said, the post had no overall rhetoric

someone emailed me saying that i am imposing my worldview that 'when information is made available pain and suffering is reduced' onto kevin sampsell by posting his emails without his permission

that is true, probably

but anyone alive is imposing their worldview onto anyone else just by moving around, talking, thinking, or breathing air, just in more circuitous, less obvious ways

i don't know what this means or what to do about this

james chapman said...

there is a "good and bad" within any defined system where there're rules about what's good or bad, and if we agree to play by those rules.

like it's bad to make an out in baseball. this isn't true in the philosophical sense. but it's true if you stay within the system of the game.

fiction that works like a game, fiction that's part of a system with rules, needs to be edited, to make sure it's correct and effective.

because people who like to read "stories," or who write "stories," want the "stories" they read to "work well" and be "effective."

they don't want "distractions," like the writer's odd quirks of personality, coming through and disturbing the "story" (the systematic reading-game). to them that'd be "bad."

so they say things like: you are being arrogant to consider yourself as your art, rather than raising the content of your art (i.e. your story) above your mere self.

most literature and all genre fiction works this way. and editors do a good service in "correcting" these works. these works make people happy.

the way tao writes, the way noah writes, the way i write, the way the authors i publish write, also authors like sterne, dostoevsky, joyce, proust, patchen, burroughs, kerouac, acker, these do not work this way.

these writers can't be edited with an eye to making the story more effective, and concealing the odd, unprecedented, incorrect elements of personality that break through continually.

because in these writers there's hardly any interest in story. these writers are their art. for them there's a much greater interest in states of being, and in complex aspects of their own personalities that're not necessarily effective, not necessarily admirable, but are true within a very private system of rules that are not always clear to the reader.

an editor, faced with a writer like that (in the rare case that a writer like that gets published at all) needs to understand that his services oughta be used very carefully.

judgements of work like that are superfluous, if they don't start from the fact that the author already knows he's "wrong" and "bad."

neither of these kinds of writing are better or worse. i know which one i prefer. but they're out there serving different purposes. different people need different kinds of books.

Steve said...

A few things:

As far as privacy goes, a great editor at a newspaper once told me, "Never write an e-mail you wouldn't want to see on the front page."

That's all I have to say about privacy.

On editing, it is a very interesting topic. I think what kinds of editing are needed depend on the piece. When I am working for a magazine or a newspaper, I basically know that I will have to change things to the editor's liking and the final product could be completely different than it began. This is journalism. Journalism is factual information. A magazine story is just information.

With creative writing, how I see it, I only send my work to venues I enjoy, and with editors I enjoy. When an editor I enjoy and respect gives me suggestions for my creative writing, I usually agree. Sometimes I get too attached to my writing, I think we all can, that I have trouble being objective.

However, my creative writing is not a journalism story, and any manipulation to the story makes it a different story.

I think editing is always something that needs to be done. For example, someone left a comment on here that incorrectly used hyphens in "two-year-old" that aren't needed. And I noticed this right away. So it was very distracting. An editor needs to read a work and find things like that.

But with creative pieces, it is a very tricky thing to try editing for "content" when doing so makes the story a different story.

I don't even know what I am saying.

I think Tao is a real artist, though. It is a very hard thing in the writing "business" to be able to take a stand like that. Whether or not it was "right" doesn't matter; he took a stand because he genuinely cares about every word in his pieces. I think it is admirable. I think some of us are so focused on the business aspect of writing that we forget the art behind it.

I still don't know what I am saying.

james chapman said...

the beckett quote is misquoted

he didn't say "ever try? ever fail? no matter."

like he was talking to people making inspirational refrigerator magnets

he said "ever tried. ever failed. no matter."

"ever" meaning always

talking to himself

Gene said...

everything is feelings.

of course this post was published because of feelings.

the work is all feelings.

the people involved said what they said because of feelings.

and this is why editors, in the context of tao's work, are worthless.

his art is 'him' because he writes feeling and doesn't spend all of his time crafting metaphors or constructing plot. and you would need an editor for that sort of thing, for some complex and contrived book. someone to point to the holes and help move the reader along.

in minimalism, the biggest ideas were stripped of all meaning. everything was edited down until there was nothing left. edit out everything.

donald judd did this. edit edit edit until he had a hundred metal boxes sitting in an airplane hangar.

in tao's work it is a sort of reverse minimalism, everything is built on nothing, so that nothing can be whatever you want it to be. the entire 'meaning' of the work is just a feeling, one that you can take however and build your own ideas on.

fill in everything or nothing.

this is how writers like tao write. you are free to make something out of the nothing they write.

you are free to make nothing out of nothing.

so there is nothing really there, other than a feeling.

so no editing is needed, other than to tidy lines up so the reader isn't distracted by grammatical errors.

that is why everything got fucked. you cannot edit work like tao's in a traditional manner. there is no traditional matter there.

so as far as feelings go, the whole issue here is feelings.

even this post itself is a feeling.

tao wouldn't have posted 11,000 words if it didn't make him feel better about everything that happened.

Noah Cicero said...

Carlo that is such a liberal 90s thing to say.

it just feelings.

That is like saying Bush is killing Iraqies because of his 'feelings.'

That is like excusing a racist because of his 'feelings.'

This is about facts.

It 2006 wake the fuck up people, we are running out oil, global warming, globization, outsourcing, AIDS, unemployment applications went up this month, in 2004 Cleveland was the poorest city in America now it is the 12th but Cleveland didn't get any richer those other cities got poorer.

We live in a time where facts and action are needed.

Tao got some facts and presented,

facts then action.

That is such a 90s bullshit liberal thing excusing everything with feelings so you don't have to take any responsiblity, so you don't have to change.

The 90s are over Carla.

This reminds of when I was watching Fox News during the Paris riots. Fox News found some psychologist to come on and say the riots were because of 'feelings' and not their circumstances.

The thing about a 90s liberal is that in this century they are a Fox News Correspondent.

Tao Lin said...

98% of the human race believes in magic

if you put some buildings and computers in lord of the rings and took away the monsters it would probably be just like how the earth is right now

at least when they are talking about 'good' and 'bad' they are talking about physical things that they then can stab with a sword

they have actually defined what they mean by 'good' or 'bad' and then had the goal of wanting to destroy the bad things because the eye thing is going to explode or something, i don't know, i'm not a lord of the rings expert

people are going to get angry i typed this

just ignore this; the post itself is more articulate and comprehensive, i just wanted to talk about lord of the rings

Tao Lin said...

"everything is built on nothing, so that nothing can be whatever you want it to be. the entire 'meaning' of the work is just a feeling, one that you can take however and build your own ideas on."

that is nice gene, thank you

i think that is nice

- said...

i don't think that posting the email exchange was a violation of Sampsell's privacy. the emails were about edits to tao's writing. i think it was completely tao's decision to share the emails. i also don't think that sampsell is upset. he linked to the post on an email announcement for future tense. by linking to the post and not trying to hide that it exists i think that means that sampsell doesn't regret anything he said and is okay with him posting the emails. i dont know. that is an assumption but it seems logical to me.

i don't really know what to say. i could say my view on editing like most people have already in the comments but i know that it doesnt mean anything. i dont see the point in posting one's opinion. isn't posting one's opinion just a way to get others to think the same way? i dont know. a fact doesn't have an opinion. its just there. people look at it and then they make their own decisions. i don't think there is a point to arguing over a fact if it is proven to be true. its just there. people will read tao's post and only look at facts which (ideally) then leads them to make an unbiased decision based on facts on things like if they are an editor whether or not they will give the artist complete freedom over their art or if they are a writer whether or not they will send their manuscripts to future tense etc..

i don't know. i feel sad. i feel sad that after tao worked for many many hours and carefully considered all of sampsell's edits that sampsell cancelled the book. isn't that facist? i could understand the cancelling of tao's book if he hadn't reviewed or thought about any of sampsell's edits but he did, he just didn't agree. Sampsell didn't accept the fact that tao has a different view than him. By cancelling Tao's book i think that shows that Sampsell does not accept anyone else's worldview than his own. that seems 'wrong' to me. i wouldn't think that is 'wrong' if Sampsell explained in the submission guidelines on his website that his edits must be accepted and that future tense publishing focuses more on the satisfaction of the readers rather than the artist. if he had done that then only the writers who agree with kevin sampsell and think that is more important to please the readers rather than the artist would submit to his website and more people would be happy. i think i probably just repeated what other people have already said. i skipped through a lot of the comments if i thought they contained opinions instead of facts. i think i just used an opinion. im retarded. im sorry.

The Man Who Couldn't Blog said...

I was all worked up and mispunctuated. I do that.


I think the meaning stands, though. I think art is risk. And And that saying art should not be called "good" or "bad" because those are subjective opinions, and meaningless because they cannot be offered in a concensus is to say that art is infallible and cannot fail. I write something, it goes out, and someone says they think it is "bad." I answer by saying, "What does that mean? What's bad to you may not be bad to me, or her, or him." And by doing so I have immunized my act of creation. And allowed myself to be shielded from the possibilities of failure. And, then, failed.

I'm not saying I know what art is. I'm saying that art occurs, though. Art occurs between the creator and the viewer.

Gene and Chapman: I agree that a literary work needs to be edited (if at all) in a way that is very different than the way a textbook is edited. In something other than a traditional manner. Future Tense publishers wrters who work in nontraditional modes. Kevin edits work like that and (oh, here I go, judging again), does a good job of it.

But, in the end, Tao has to be comfortable with the person who is editing him. And, if he didn't think Kevin was the right person to edit him, it doesn't matter what I think. I have to, in the final evaluation, concede the point. I think Kevin is the perfect editor for Tao's work. He didn't. My opinion is meaningless. I stated it anyway. If I hadn't, there would only be the agreement and the dick jokes. And Carla.

I don't think Carla is really Carla, though. I think Carla is someone pretedning to be Carla.

Tao, I will reread the interviews and try to do a better job of responding.

The Man Who Couldn't Blog said...

I am, by the way, in favor of Carla not being real. I like to think that Carla is actually John Updike.

james chapman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gene said...

i'm glad you argued the other side, matthew. i want you to say more.

i wish more people that didn't agree with tao posted things here. i like fighting on the internet. it's cool/fun.

like with carla, who is not carla and who is john updike and made me actually talk about feelings, and the penis.

this is how the internet makes us stronger than john updike/carla.

feelings and penises.

N A said...

I think Carla is Denis Johnson.

Denis, I told you to email me. We need to talk.


the best part is KS consistently claiming that he "doesn't have a blogger account" as though they are not easily procured. As I read through the email exchange, all I wanted to do was email him back with: IT TAKES FIVE SECONDS TO MAKE A FUCKING BLOGGER ACCOUNT! But after thinking about, and in consultation with an editor, I'd definitely drop the exclamation point. And maybe add another "fucking" somewhere, although I'm not sure where.

also, war is a construct, much like gender. the middle east does not exist.

Tao Lin said...

i'm going to summarize this post to one sentence:

"No one's way of doing things is any more 'valid' than anyone else's; everyone just has equally arbitrarily chosen assumptions and contexts about the universe, from which each person gives meaning to words like 'good' and 'bad' and 'should,' including me with this sentence probably."

what that sentence means:

"Nothing matters, everything is done sarcastically, with the knowledge that you are just as 'baseless' in your philosophies or actions as everyone else; this sentence itself is typed sarcastically, because if I really understood what I'm typing I probably would not be typing anything, since any kind of communication, or action, even, is rhetoric and influences other minds."

i'm posting this

don't argue with these sentences

you can't argue with someone who is not trying to make an argument but just trying to think about things publicly

Tao Lin said...

i just realized something

everyone is arguing

no one is thinking

everyone is trying to prove that they are right

this post is not trying to prove anything

read the last interview

read the entire thing

i've talked about this before

whenever you post anything on the internet or say anything in real life the other person will immediately assume that you are trying to prove that they are wrong and you are right

trevor said...

I thought it all very incisive and am glad you posted it. I especially liked reading over Kevin's edits and your comments. I won't voice any opinions on the post; I don't have the experience necessary.

It was eye-opening. Thanks.

Sean Carman said...

I think Carla hit the nail on the head. The 11,000 word post seems like feelings wearing the mask of art and sensibility. Which is both pretentious and sad.

Find a friend to talk to. Work through how you feel about this experience, and learn how to protect your feelings, so that next time you have a publisher back out of a book deal, you won't react this way.

james chapman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sean Carman said...

"hurt feelings" wearing the mask of art and sensibility, I should have said.

Tao Lin said...

sean carman

Steve said...

rilke and sean carman, you are weird.

trevor said...


My dad is dead, asshole.

He was killed in Abilene in a bar fight with Chuck Norris.

Thanks for rehashing those painful memories!

Tao Lin said...


yes, thank you for saying that

you are right, to most people, like 98% of people, it is impossible for them to view a situation or a thing of information as what it is, which is just a thing, and not for or against anything

i said that in this post itself like ten times and look at the reaction

- said...

i googled 'does tao lin have a smooth hot ass?' to get to this page

Steven Augustine said...

I just wanted to break a record for posting a late comment.

Anonymous said...

It is very uplifting to read this when I feel depressed. I'm overwhelmingly happy that you've since 'done big things' with books, and continue to write in ways that are very real, I.E. using phrases like 'or something.' Thanks for putting up with this shit so eventually you would write more things that I would read and it would make my life slightly better and end a little bit of my unhappiness. You're writing style has 'rubbed off' on me.

jo said...

wow, this kevin sounds like a douche bag.

sounds like he just wants to put his stamp on something he didn't have the creativity to make himself.

jack said...

We all buy into a value system, but its best to have a healthy amount of skepticism to imposing it on others. There are plenty of situations where that skepticism would best be ignored, but certainly not 'art' or 'literature'. Maybe book sales. Creativity is the capacity to make decisions outside the constraints of others. There's a greater 'course of human history' to make sense of our contribution w/r/t the total sum of human adaptation/progress (novalue/value).

steve roggenbuck said...

tao lin, holy shit

i read this entire post

you are like my
or something

Jordan Castro said...

i just read this entire post...

2:36 a.m.

sweet post

must wake at 7

sweet post

theradiopaper said...

where was i in 2006. wow.

Jenn Schaffer said...

just read this in 2011. i am frequently impressed by you, tao. this gave me a lot to think about. thank you for sharing all of this. it's kind of brilliant.


Justin Carter said...

i do not have a comment related to the post but wanted to say that this has made me decide to go read the chapbook again because i liked it a lot the first time i read it

blake said...

i just read this entire thing. i feel good. i feel more anxious about taking writing workshops now. college seems 92% dumb to me. it is 4:33 am in jacksonville, fl. i will probably sleep in till 2-3 pm tomorrow now.